California prisons use dogs to search for cell phones and contraband

9:49 AM, Sep 27, 2010   |    comments
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SLIDESHOW: Canines sniff out contraband 

GALT, CA - California state prisons have a new line of defense.  Dogs are being trained at a state corrections facility in Galt and then sent into prisons to sniff out contraband and cell phones.

"You can see the work the dog does in half the time the correctional officer would," said Mike York, spokesman for California State Prison, Sacramento.

Canine teams have a long history of sniffing out narcotics, but now in addition to drugs, the dogs are specifically trained to find cell phones.

"Inmates were using their cell phones to run their identity theft rings in concert with people on the street. And we've busted up drug rings," said Tim Virga, acting warden at CSP, Sacramento.

Cell phones are a growing security threat and the reason 19 new canine teams have been added to the California corrections' staff since 2009. Almost 7,000 cell phones were discovered by correctional staff in 2009, five times the number found in 2007.

Virga says cell phones pose a real danger to prison employees and the public. "It is a major problem and it gives them (inmates) an advantage over us in their ability to communicate unfettered."

In a surprise raid at two minimum security dorms at CSP, Sacramento this month, 10 canine teams were able to locate 11 cell phones, marijuana, methamphetamine, thousands of dollars worth of tobacco, and several handmade weapons in just a few hours.

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation says all of its dogs, German Shepherds and Belgian Malinois, have been donated or adopted from rescue organizations from all over California, a huge cost savings since police dogs typically cost between $6,000 and $12,000 each.

CDCR is expanding its program on Oct. 18 when seven more canine teams will be certified and ready for work in California's prisons.

By Kate Larsen,


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